GET TO KNOW: Lara Mare van Niekerk
Lara Mare van Niekerk will be speaking on “TRANSFORMING FROM A START-UP TO SCALE-UP“
Having grown up on a farm she appreciates the importance of real, ‘home-grown’ foods and is passionate about providing farmers (who incur so much of the risk) greater access to the market.
Whilst spending a number of years in Banking and Strategy Consulting she studied both Psychology and Perinatal Health, Fitness and Nutrition where she drew even greater links between nutrition and one’s overall health and wellbeing and uses those daily at Rush Nutrition which looks to pioneer innovative functional food and beverages solutions.
We had the pleasure of asking Lara a few questions on the food and beverage industry:
FNA: What do you believe has been the key change in the F&B sector over the past five years?
LM: The F&B sector is in a state of flux, there have been environmental changes, industry changes and customer changes that cannot be ignored any longer. These changes have largely been driven by a food sector which did not account for externalities from disease to pollution to deforestation to soil degradation and waste and are now having to face them head-on. The key change for us has been the greater level of customer awareness around these externalities and the pressure they are in turn placing on policymakers, manufacturers, investors, retailers and governments to raise the bar and keep themselves- and others- accountable.
FNA: Where do you see the three key challenges driving innovation in the industry over the next five years?
LM: There is a pressing need to bring truth back to food, but this is being jeopardized by the blinkered pursuit of profit. The key challenges driving innovation in the industry in our opinion will be:
- Climate change- reducing meat consumption could cut global food-related emissions by nearly a third by 2050, but what are the alternatives? How are businesses conserving and regenerating the resources they use? How are they eliminating pollution and reducing waste?
- Disease- more than half of all global diet-related deaths (which now account for more deaths than smoking and drinking COMBINED) in 2017 were due to just 3 risk factors: eating too much salt, not enough whole grains and not enough fruit. What are food manufacturers and retailers doing to address this? How does the industry adapt to sugar taxes and what other taxes should we be anticipating as the larger emphasis is placed on prevention rather than cure?
- Food security- by the end of the century the world population will grow by 4 billion people with 90% of this growth from Africa. How do we ensure this population has sufficient nutrient dense, affordable food? How do we then get this food to them in the most cost-effective and efficient way?
FNA: The F&B sector is undergoing huge change. What are the three tips you would give for success in the coming five years?
LM: The time for responsible players who are regenerative in their mindsets is now. If we continue to allow profit to be the only measure of our success we will continue to shoulder the burden of the extractive system we’ve created. A system that promises wealth but erodes our greatest wealth: our health and the health of our planet. A system that upholds ‘free markets’ but disproportionally rewards the Goliaths. A system that tells you bigger is better- but which ignores the simple truth that infinite growth on a finite planet is just not possible. The three tips for success against this backdrop would be:
- Stick to your values: “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything”- whilst it is tempting to chase what glitters you run the risk of diluting your value proposition and as we enter the age of increased consumer activism being authentic and walking in your company’s TRUTH is increasingly important.
- Cultivate community: building community around our business has been paramount to our journey. To share in their stories and in turn support their individual journeys is what keeps us going. Our tribe have become our ambassadors (and us theirs) and are powerful and cost-effective change agents. They have also been instrumental in new product development and product improvement. The challenge is how to remain close to them as the business grows and time gets increasingly allocated to process over people….
- Be passionate: to say it’s tough out there is a complete understatement. The market is competitive, the retail environment is ruthless and customers are feeling the financial pressure like never before- it takes passion to keep placing one foot in front of the other. There needs to be a reason you keep doing this every day- and profit should not be that reason because it remains largely elusive as one scales… You will face obstacles and lots of NO’s- but these NO’s will be irrelevant if your YES is bigger.
FNA: Which type of people do you believe would gain the most from attending your session this year?
LM: Passionate entrepreneurs who are keen to learn about new paradigms in the food and beverage space and how best to drive them against a backdrop of profit-first. Players in the food system who believe that business can (and should!) be better for people and better for the planet